Are Varsity Cup and other attractions harming traditional clubs?

2010-09-09 00:00

YOU could hardly find a single “traditional” rugby club in the entire country that is more successful than College Rovers.

Yet head coach Ryan Strudwick highlighted to The Witness on Tuesday evening just some of the problems that non-university clubs are grappling with.

This admission came after “Strudders” had completed a back-to-back league and cup double with Rovers.

The club on the doorstep of King’s Park withstood a fiery Old Boys challenge at Crusaders on Saturday to add the Castle Murray Cup crown to the Premier Division title they had won a month or so ago — yet another triumph for a club that first won the Murray Cup 111 years ago.

Strudwick said the average age of club players in KZN is getting younger and younger. Indeed, gone are the days when the likes of stalwart Maritzburg Collegians lock Dave Davidson played into their forties. Davidson actually played for Collegians seconds with his son a season or two ago — surely a record in South African rugby.

A similar, but different, recent situation is seen in PMB Elephants veteran Woody Newman, who was busting a gut in the tight five for longer than his sell-by date may have suggested.

He is part of a dying breed. Like Davidson, the instantly likeable Newman is also putting back into a game that gave him so much.

After relatively humble beginnings at Wartburg High School, Strudwick enjoyed a remarkable career at loose forward that saw him play for PMB Varsity, Rovers, the KZN Wildebeest and Sharks, and captain English Premiership club London Irish and the British Barbarians. He, too, is putting back.

The rangy former loosie said the attractions of Varsity Cup and the lure of overseas rugby make it nigh impossible to build a team.

“At season-end every year a bunch of Rovers players move on and this year is no different, with four guys joining Griquas and the Sharks while Varsity Cup, other provinces and overseas rugby are other reasons why there is such a high turnover,” he said.

And with the National Club Rugby Championships at Stellenbosch University starting next Saturday, the resignation in Strudwick’s voice told a story.

“We’ve got a very tough draw. Bethlehem Old Boys is not too bad in the first round, but if that goes well it’s one of Tukkies or UJ [University of Johannesburg] in the second and the next hurdle would probably be Pukke [University of North West] in the semi-finals. We will do what we can.”

Professionalism has changed everything — and that’s not a bad thing either — but varsities that were always strong have now become superclubs to an even greater degree, as Varsity Cup allows a healthy number of non-students in the respective teams, to the detriment of the likes of Rovers. What to do? It’s not an easy answer.

A little-known fact about the oldest club rugby knockout tournament in the country has come to light courtesy of the ever-young Jos Robson.

As if to prove you can’t keep anything sacred from the Kiwis comes the revelation that the Murray Cup has been won three times by New Zealand teams!

Robson reports that former All Black lock Ian Jones, who played against Ruben Kruger in the 1995 World Cup final, laid a wreath on behalf of his country at the Boer War memorial at Langverwacht, near Vrede, the home of the late Bok flanker.

Jones’s visit was in honour of Kiwi soldiers who served with the 7th New Zealand Mounted Rifles at the Battle of Langverwacht.

These soldiers participated in the Murray Cup when on leave and won it three years in a row, from 1904 to 1906.

Meanwhile, celebrated former Sharks and Springbok coach Ian McIntosh is hosting a champions breakfast in Pinetown on October 5 that includes Gary Teichmann and Shaun Pollock.

Contact Beryl at 082 403 9161 or for more information.


Castle Murray Cup: Rovers 30 Old Boys 14. Jnr Murray Cup: Jaguars 39 Vryheid 10. Peter Taylor Trophy: Rovers II 31 Dbn Collegians II 12. Keith Parkinson Cup: Toti II 52 Vryheid II 0. Starlite U19 Trophy: Dbn Coll 22 Harlequins 21.

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